Cream of the crop John delivers tales from 43 years as a milkman
THREE days a week, John Wakefield gets up at 2.30am for his regular shift in Cheltenham town centre.
He drives in pitch black darkness and arrives at the office at 3am and makes himself a coffee.
He says: “The early morning are the best part of the day, to be honest.
“Back in the day you started at five in the morning.”
John, 73, is one of Cheltenham’s longest-serving milkmen and has been working for Cotteswold Dairy since 1976.
Growing up in the town, John wished to be a policeman when he was older.
However, his hopes were dashed when he didn’t get the grades to qualify for the constabulary.
John says: “I was sad but then a friend told me about an ad in the newspaper for someone to work at the Cotteswold Dairy.
“They were looking for someone in the factory, so I went for it.”
Cotteswold Dairy delivers across the county - but Cheltenham is the only place you’ll find an old-fashioned milk float driving around in the early hours.
John is one of six milkmen that take their route around Cheltenham, covering various areas from Lansdown to Lynworth and delivering products such as milk, cheese, bread and butter to residents in town.
Although there are less milkmen than there were 50 years ago, it’s becoming more and more popular due to the preference of glass bottles over plastic.
In the past 20 years, Cotteswold Dairy seen popularity for residential milk delivery increase by 75 per cent.
“I would say it’s been in the last three years that we’ve seen an increase.
“One women said that her daughter asked her ‘why do you have a milkman when you can just go to Sainsbury’s?’
“But she said ‘if I go in there I’ll come out with a cake and biscuits, which I don’t really want.’
“So she’s saving two quid from buying something else as well”
As we tootle around the streets of
Cheltenham, it becomes clear that John is a well-known and well-liked member of the community as early ris- ers wave and shout from the footpath and the windows of their cars.
Going past on the bumpy ride around Pitville Park, there’s a sense that John knows everyone and everyone knows him.
He says that this is part of why he loves it so much: “It’s a social job, that’s why it’s great.
“You get talking to people all the time on the route.”
Residents frequently ask John to help them out with odd jobs and at six-footone, he is frequently asked to reach up to cupboards.
However, the effect of John’s relationship to his customers truly came through even more so in one of the most difficult times of his life.
John was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017, and was then told that he would need to take at least a month off from work.
He says: “I only took the month off and then I was doing three days a week.” John says that his illness was “very difficult” but was made easier surrounded by family including his wife and three daughters, of whom one lives next door, another in Derby and another lives with him and his wife at home.
John delivers to all kinds of people with issues such as blindness, where he has learnt how to navigate the communication methods to deliver milk to them safely and at the same time keep up a friendship with them.
He says that when he started the job, a lot more housewives would greet him at the door.
However, as the years go on and the tide changes, he says: “You see far less of that, because you have women going out to work and needing to help to pay the mortgage, which is fair enough”.
John says that there used to be more women doing milk rounds back in the day.
He says: “Back then, thirty years ago, you had ‘women’s rounds’ which started at about half past four or five o’clock, before their husband went to work and they could finish in time to take the kids to school.”
In the day-to-day running of the milk round, John occasionally runs into issues of petty theft.
He says: “Sometimes you have to be careful putting the milk on the step, because young people out and about who have had a couple of drinks can nick them.
“Then you get your boss saying ‘You haven’t delivered milk to such-andsuch on such-and-such a day,’ but you have - it’s just been nicked.”
Although the start is early and the rounds can be long, John says to this day, he loves it: “People say ‘You’re crackers, 72 years old and still doing this!’”
“One day body will say to me ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’ - but not just yet.”
John Wakefield has been delivering milk since 1976